The Secretary of State was asked—
Violence against Women and Girls
It is an honour to stand here today as the International Development Secretary. I believe passionately in my Department’s mission to end extreme poverty. Violence against women and girls is a global scandal that the Department for International Development is working to end. We invest in hundreds of organisations to improve the lives of millions of women and girls globally. I pay tribute to the leadership of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on the issue. I am determined to continue our work on this agenda.
Only 1% of gender-specific funds are spent on women’s rights organisations. Does the Secretary of State not think she could do more, and will she align with ActionAid, whose campaign “Fearless” has really taken off?
I pay tribute to those involved in championing that campaign. There are more than 40 existing mechanisms through which funding is channelled to women’s rights organisations. I believe—rightly so—that we channel our funding in the right way to support the right objectives and outcomes for women and girls around the world.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her place. Women refugees often suffer violence on their journeys to safety, and the practice of registering only the head of the family in asylum processes often leaves their needs neglected. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that at the UN summit on refugees next week the voice of women refugees will get a proper hearing?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her very important and significant question. She is right to point out that there is a conference at the UN General Assembly next week specifically on refugees, on which our Prime Minister and President Obama will be leading. Those are the very issues and challenges that will be reflected in the summit, and Britain will lead the way in standing up for the rights of women refugees and doing the responsible thing for them.
During the summer holidays many girls are taken from the UK to developing countries, where they are subjected to the brutality of female genital mutilation. What is the Secretary of State doing to prevent those girls from being taken out of the country in that way?
The hon. Lady rightly highlights the abhorrent practice of FGM and that vulnerable girls are abused in that way. I am working with colleagues across Government on a strategy to ensure not just that we do more but that we end that practice and, importantly, bring the perpetrators of that abhorrent crime to justice.
As I said in my opening remarks, I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, who has led the way on women’s rights and rights for girls. The hon. Lady is right to point to the SDGs. DFID is doing a great deal. We recognise the critical role of women’s rights and the organisations that we partner and work with. We will continue to do exactly that.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. What programmes does her Department provide to counter the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war and subjugation?
The hon. Lady raises the abuse and the abhorrent crimes that take place against women and girls in conflict and conflict zones. We work with a whole range of organisations, and civil society also plays a part in achieving the right outcomes. We work with Governments around the world and through our multilateral relationships through the United Nations not only to work with countries and organisations to try to stop that practice but to deal with the perpetrators of those appalling crimes.
My Department has funded the United Nations and non-governmental organisations to provide food, water, healthcare and nutritional supplies to Aleppo. We have allocated £561 million to support vulnerable people inside Syria, including in Aleppo and other besieged areas, where access is possible.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response but, despite the ceasefire this week, we are hearing from the UN special envoys that the Syrian regime is continuing to restrict aid to eastern Aleppo. We have also heard reports that two barrels of chlorine gas were dropped by helicopter on civilian neighbourhoods, injuring many people including children. What will the Secretary of State do to facilitate access for humanitarian aid?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The Syria crisis is appalling in every single aspect we see and experience. The point about aid is significant because we have had significant access problems. The ceasefire has just come into being and, obviously, we are working with the UN and our partners to look at getting much needed aid and supplies into the besieged areas, which have not seen aid for a considerable time. All colleagues in the House recognise this, but it is worth pointing out again that this is an appalling crisis and conflict. On the perpetrator—Assad—we are working on the wider conflict resolution, but our priority is to ensure that we can get humanitarian supplies in.
The UK led the way with the Syria conference. We have pledged more than £2.3 billion in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region. We have the UN General Assembly next week, where we will again make the case for the donors to do more to raise more money, and for greater partnership working, to alleviate many of the hardships that we see in the crisis in Syria.
All hon. Members hope that the ceasefire will mean safer passage for the convoys to reach the besieged cities. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence on potential airdrops, if deemed necessary, to ensure that support gets to those who need it so desperately?
The hon. Lady recognises and reflects upon the severity of the situation. I am working with colleagues in both Departments she mentioned. Obviously, the ceasefire has only just come into being. We are looking at all avenues to get humanitarian and support in, and at how we can help the affected populations. Delivering aid by road by our trusted partners ensures that it gets to the most vulnerable. Airdrops come with a greater risk but, as I have said, with the ceasefire coming into fruition at the beginning of the week, we are looking at all avenues for aid delivery.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I am speaking to all our partners—global donors, global partners and other Governments—importantly recognising that humanitarian aid is essential, as is protecting and safeguarding vulnerable people. That is part of our ongoing work with multilateral organisations, and an ongoing area of our work in the Government.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. To be clear, about 300,000 people are believed to be in east Aleppo; civilians are trapped inside the city’s eastern neighbourhoods and are experiencing bombing; and children have been left crippled and dead. This is a humanitarian crisis and we need to work together to ensure there is help where help is needed. Many questions have been asked today. I thank the House, because we are standing together, but will the Secretary of State elaborate on what mechanisms are in place at this point in time and what mechanisms she will explore?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome and look forward to working with her on many such global challenges and crises. She is right to highlight the extent of humanitarian suffering in Aleppo we are comprehending. I was in Brussels on Monday meeting my development counterparts, and I speak on a near-daily basis to my opposite numbers around the world. The focus for us is the humanitarian crisis, and on getting aid into the besieged areas, and to the people who desperately need aid but who have not been receiving it. I will continue the work we are undertaking and continue to update the House.
Nepal Earthquake: Aid
On behalf of the Department, I express our great condolences on the impact of the earthquake. Some 700,000 people lost their homes and 9,000 people were killed. Specifically in relation to Dolakha, we have provided a great deal of support, including housing grants for 40,000 houses, and cooking equipment, blankets and tarpaulins for 7,000 people.
I warmly welcome the Minister to his place. A Must for Dolakha is a charity based in Farnworth in my constituency. Mr Heslop, who represents the charity, visited the region recently and found that a number of people did not have any food or shelter. There was a feeling that aid had not reached a number of people in need. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the charity to discuss how we can best help the people affected in those areas?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and to her constituent for the work he does. We need to understand the scale of this catastrophe. DFID is spending £100 million this year. Even so, with 700,000 people having lost their homes, the situation is extremely challenging. The response in Dolakha is led by USAID and the World Bank. I am very happy to sit down with the hon. Lady and her constituent to discuss our forthcoming work on roads, police stations and health clinics in Dolakha itself.
DFID is engaged in tackling some of the great global challenges of our time. The Department has in place rigorous systems and processes to ensure that the money we spend gets to those for whom it is intended.
Does the Minister agree that UK taxpayers need to be considered at every single step of the way when it comes to our aid spending?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. He may have seen the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Daily Mail only today setting out her vision for the future direction of the Department’s spending. We need rigorous accountability. We need proper business cases. We need a clear sense of what we want to achieve. That is exactly what this ministerial team will bring and what this Government will deliver.
The UK has been a key contributor to the global health fund, which has made a real difference. I met only yesterday the chairs of the all-party groups on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to discuss the contribution the UK intends to make. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making an announcement in Montreal in the coming days to set out just what the UK will be doing.
As always, my hon. Friend has an eye for value for money in the interests of the British taxpayer. We are, of course, looking at what DFID does. DFID delivers a huge amount of difference: it changes lives and helps people across the globe. We want to ensure that every penny we spend is spent wisely. The comments he makes are very important, as part of that debate and discussion.
There are grave concerns about the Palestinian Authority continuing to pay reward payments to convicted terrorists and the possible misappropriation of international aid from the UK to the Palestinian Authority. Will the Minister look carefully at that once again in the light of the grave concerns that are being expressed?
It is vital that the money that UK taxpayers spend on aid is spent on the right things and the right priorities. Where concerns are raised, they will of course be looked into in detail. If there are issues found to be arising, they will be addressed and tackled. The UK also believes in its commitment to helping the poorest in the world. Every penny spent on the purposes for which it is intended is a penny well spent. Any penny that goes missing is a life that may go unsaved.
Aid Budget: Value for Money
My predecessors in Government have made huge progress in improving British aid by creating an independent aid watchdog, introducing much tougher value-for-money controls and making DFID’s spending even more transparent.
Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that in seeking value for money she will also ensure that British companies and organisations are able to tender competitively for all DFID contracts at home and abroad, and are not in any way disadvantaged when bidding against overseas companies?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will know of, and be familiar with, the regulations on procurement, but I want to assure him and the House that British firms and British small and medium-sized enterprises win a significant proportion of our work. In the last financial year, 74% of our supplier spend was with UK firms.
The Secretary of State has clearly been very busy briefing The Mail on Sunday, along with her anti-aid special adviser. She mentioned transparency, so can she explain why funding for South Sudan, an area of great interest not only to our security forces but to our development needs, is to receive a cut in its budget next year from her Department? Will she continue to fund crucial humanitarian causes such as that one?
I hope, Mr Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman heard my words earlier about the tremendous work of our Department when it comes to humanitarian aid, support and saving lives. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we will continue to champion those individuals whose lives need saving where support is required in many countries around the world. That includes a lot of the institutional reform and the support that we bring.
I always hear the Secretary of State’s words. I have been hearing them for at least 20 years.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and assure her that I, too, enjoyed reading the Daily Mail this morning. As part of getting proper value, would it not make sense to reward those organisations that are working for peace within the middle east rather than to have money going to those who seek to encourage terrorism?
My right hon. Friend raises important points. As I have said a number of times today, DFID is focused on value for money, but, as he has rightly pointed out, we will work with organisations in the right way to make sure that we are delivering the right outcomes that meet our Government priorities—both peace and stability, as well as humanitarian causes.
I, too, would like to welcome the Secretary of State and her Ministers to their places, but in doing I wish to remind her of her predecessor’s commitment to transparency and scrutiny of the development budget to ensure value for money. Why, then, with the replenishment of the global health fund, which should be one of the biggest multilateral commitments, just days away, have we not seen the publication of the multilateral and bilateral reviews?
If I may repeat again, we are very focused, and my predecessors quite rightly worked hard and assiduously on value for money and greater transparency. I want to go even further by making the entire global aid system more transparent, more focused on results and more accountable to those we are trying to help. The hon. Gentleman rightly points to the global fund replenishment. A conference is taking place this weekend, and I will be making an announcement over the course of it. I shall also be making sure with that replenishment that we push the agenda of greater transparency and value for money.
Aid Budget: Government Departments
We will honour our commitment to the 0.7%. Based on the spending review settlement of 2015, other Government Departments will spend 14% of UK official development assistance in this financial year, including 4% spent through cross-government departmental funds such as the Conflict Stability and Security Fund and the prosperity fund.
Did the international aid transparency initiative not establish that the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office are “poor” and “very poor” at dispensing aid? Should not all of the 0.7% therefore be distributed through DFID?
We have a cross-government strategy on how to spend ODA money on Government priorities. We want to address the challenges across the world—there are obviously many global threats—which is why the MOD and other Government Departments have oversight and spend in this area. I am leading, but I work with my colleagues across Government to ensure that the money is spent in the right way on those strategic priorities.
I welcome the new Secretary of State and her Ministers to their new roles. As a member of the International Development Committee, I look forward to seeing them in that Committee. Can she reassure me that the non-DFID ODA will continue to see the same amount of scrutiny as the DFID ODA?
I thank my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right. We have the watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. As the lead Government Department, leading on overspend, we ensure that the money going across Government Departments through this cross-government strategy is spent on the right priorities. It will be spent in the right way.
I welcome both the Government and the Opposition spokespersons to their posts. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, contrary to what the Defence Secretary told the “Today” programme, it does matter what budget conflict and security spending comes from? Will she guarantee that the Ministry of Defence will not raid the DFID budget, which should be spent on helping the poorest people around the world?
As the world is changing, so must our approach to aid. That is why we have a cross-Government strategy to ensure that official development assistance meets Government priorities while also recognising and tackling the global challenges that we face. DFID will continue to be a leader when it comes to accountability and transparency, and that will, of course, apply to my colleagues throughout the Government as well.
Order. These are extremely important matters affecting some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet. They really do deserve—[Interruption.] Order. They really do deserve a more attentive audience. It would show some respect to very vulnerable people if we listened to the questions and to Ministers’ answers.
It was reported in The Guardian today that the Secretary of State has plans for a drastic overhaul in the direction of foreign aid, which will be based on “core Tory values”. Can she explain to us what the overhaul will look like, and how it will affect the most vulnerable?
As I have already said today, my Department will be a champion of British taxpayers when it comes to the rightful spending of UK aid. My predecessors worked assiduously to ensure that aid was spent in the right way, and I will continue to build on that.
As for Conservative values, I am speaking very clearly about economic development, prosperity, jobs and empowerment in many of the poorest parts of the world. That is what my Department and I will focus on as we work on the transparency agenda, while also ensuring that those in the poorest countries can look to the future more positively and with more prosperity.
Since my appointment I have visited India, where I called for the delivery of an ambitious UK-India partnership. I have also visited Lebanon and Jordan, where I saw at first hand how UK-funded programmes are delivering education and humanitarian support to the residents of the Zaatari refugee camp. I look forward to working with all our partners throughout the world where British leadership and experience are valued.
Given that a 20% increase in funding for the global fund from Britain is perfectly affordable in the context of Britain’s rising aid budget, and given that such an increase would trigger further sizeable increases in contributions from the United States and from Gates, why can the Secretary of State not tell the House now whether she will meet that 20% request?
I have already said that I will be doing that, along with my colleagues. I spoke to my Canadian counterpart yesterday about our replenishment of the global fund, and other support. The global fund does amazing work in meeting global objectives. I shall make an announcement about our replenishment this weekend, at the Replenishment conference.
I only just heard my hon. Friend’s question, but I picked up his reference to global goals, which represent a comprehensive plan when it comes to fighting poverty and meeting our strategic objectives. I assure him that my Department is focusing on delivering on those goals, and on meeting our manifesto pledges on aid.
Again, I only just heard the question, but I think it was based on the need for positive dialogue with colleagues in the Scottish National party. If it was, absolutely: that is exactly what I shall be doing.
Of course, international assessments of Venezuela note that it is suffering a deep economic crisis and not just with inflation, but also because there is a health emergency there—a shortage of medicines and a humanitarian crisis. Strangely enough, Venezuela’s economic and political policy models have of course been championed by the Labour party, and we can now see what those policies have led to, with the economic catastrophe in Venezuela.
I look forward to publishing both of the reviews, and since they were draft reviews when I came into the Department, I am looking at them to make sure they meet not just the Government’s priorities, but also DFID’s new priorities. I look forward to publishing them later this year.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The UK is the largest donor to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, which protects children from rubella through measles and rubella vaccinations, and of course GAVI has been set up very much to do exactly what my hon. Friend says. We have the UK aid match scheme, and Sense International has received over £200,000 for this very purpose in Uganda and Kenya in particular. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend about his findings from his visit.
Yesterday, the all-party group on Syria—[Interruption.]—met so that we could, with friends from Syria, remember our colleague Jo Cox—[Interruption.]
Order. I really do think that this question in respect of the seriousness of the situation in Syria, and in deference to our late colleague Jo Cox, should be heard in silence.
Yesterday, the all-party group on Syria met so that we could, with our friends from Syria, remember our colleague Jo Cox. May I ask the Secretary of State, further to answers she gave a moment ago with regard to besieged areas, what discussions she has had with colleagues in the region about making sure that sufficient resources are stockpiled in nearby areas so that as soon as that humanitarian window opens we can make sure those areas get the help they need?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right once again to highlight the appalling crisis and the conflict we see in Syria right now. Further to the points I made earlier, with the new cessation of hostilities coming into force we are of course focused on all avenues of access to get humanitarian aid and support into many parts of Syria that have not seen aid or any humanitarian support for a considerable time. With regard to the discussions I have been having, I have been speaking to colleagues in the region and colleagues across government, and I have also been speaking to our international partners about how we can get that aid through to these critical locations.
Thank you, colleagues.
Let me start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the former Member of Parliament for Witney, David Cameron. He has been a tremendous public servant both for his Witney constituency and the country as a whole, and under his leadership we saw the economy being stabilised, more people in work than ever before, and people on low incomes being taken out of paying tax altogether, and this Government will build on that legacy by extending opportunity to all parts of the country.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.
Last week, the Prime Minister could not tell us whether she was in favour of staying in the single market. As an Edinburgh MP, may I tell her how important the financial sector is to Scotland’s economy? Will she tell us whether she agrees with her Foreign Secretary that passporting for financial services is guaranteed to continue after the UK leaves the European Union?
I am not going to give the hon. Lady a different answer from the one I gave the House on many occasions last week, which is that this Government will be working to ensure the right deal for the United Kingdom in trade in goods and services. That includes listening to the concerns that the Scottish Government and the Governments in Northern Ireland and Wales might wish to raise with us. We will be fully engaged with the devolved Administrations. As I said last week, the best thing for the financial sector in Edinburgh and for the economy of Scotland is to be part of the United Kingdom.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the very good employment figures that we have seen today. As he has said, unemployment in his constituency has halved since 2010. That is because we have had an economic plan and built a strong economy. He is absolutely right to say that as we look to provide opportunities for young people, we must ensure that we consider those for whom technical skills and a vocational education are the right route, because what we want is an education that is right for every child so that they can get as far as their talents will take them.
I am sure that the whole House will join me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and Jane Kennedy, the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside, in paying tribute to the police constable who was stabbed several times yesterday in the line of duty while trying to arrest a rape suspect in Huyton. We all wish him well and a speedy recovery. I also wish the former Prime Minister well on his departure from this House and in his future life. I hope that the by-election in Witney will concentrate on the issues of education and on his views on selection in education.
I want to congratulate the Prime Minister. She has brought about unity between Ofsted and the teaching unions. She has united former Education Secretaries on both sides of the House. She has truly brought about a new era of unity in education thinking. I wonder if it is possible for her this morning, within the quiet confines of this House, to name any education experts who back her proposals on new grammar schools and more selection.
First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the police constable who was stabbed in Knowsley? One of the events that I used to look forward to going to every year as Home Secretary was the Police Bravery Awards, because at that event we saw police officers who never knew, when they started their shift, what was going to happen to them. They run towards danger when other people would run away from it, and we owe them a great tribute and our gratitude.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of education, because it enables me to point out that over the past six years we have seen 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools. That is because of the changes that this Government introduced: free schools and academies, head teachers being put in charge of schools, and more choice for parents. I note that the right hon. Gentleman has opposed all those changes. What I want to see is more good school places and a diversity of provision of education in this country so that we really see opportunity for all and young people going as far as their talents will take them.
I asked the Prime Minister whether she could name any experts who could help her with this policy. Sadly, she was not able to, so may I quote one expert at her? His name is John and he is a teacher. He wrote to me:
“The education system and teachers have made great strides forward to improve the quality and delivery of the curriculum. Why not fund all schools properly and let us do our job.”
The evidence of the effects of selection is this: in Kent, which has a grammar school system, 27% of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 45% in London. We are all for spreading good practice, but why does the Prime Minister want to expand a system that can only let children down?
The right hon. Gentleman needs to stop casting his mind back to the 1950s. We will ensure that we are able to provide good school places for the 1.25 million children in schools that are failing or inadequate or that need improvement. Those children and their parents know that they are not getting the education that is right for them and the opportunities that they need.
Let us consider the impact of grammar schools. If we look at the attainment of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children, we see that the attainment gap in grammar schools is virtually zero, which it is not in other schools. It is an opportunity for young people to go where their talents will take them. The right hon. Gentleman believes in equality of outcome; I believe in equality of opportunity. He believes in levelling down; we believe in levelling up.
Equality of opportunity is not segregating children at the age of 11. Let me quote the Institute for Fiscal Studies:
“those in selective areas who don’t get into grammar schools do worse than they would in a comprehensive system.”
The Secretary of State for Education suggested on Monday that new grammar schools may be required to set up feeder primary schools in poorer areas. Will the children in those feeder primaries get automatic places at grammar school or will they be subject to selection?
We are setting up a more diverse education system that provides more opportunities. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be defending the situation we have at the moment, where there is selection in our school system, but it is selection by house price. We want to ensure that children have the ability to go where their talents take them. I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that he went to a grammar school and I went to a grammar school, and it is what got us to where we are today—but my side might be rather happier about that than his.
The two things that the Prime Minister and I have in common are that we can both remember the 1950s and can both remember going to a grammar school. My point is this: every child should have the best possible education. We do not need to and never should divide children at the age of 11—a life-changing division where the majority end up losing out.
I notice that the Prime Minister did not answer my question about feeder primary schools. The Secretary of State for Education said on Monday that the Government
“have not engaged much in the reform of grammars”—[Official Report, 12 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 614.]
but that they would now start the process. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether existing grammars, such as those in Kent and Buckinghamshire, will now be instructed to widen their admissions policies?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that what we are looking at and consulting on is a diversity of provision in education. We want to make sure that all grammar schools actually do the job that we believe is important—providing opportunities for a wide range of pupils—and there are many examples across the country of different ways in which that is done through selective education. He talks about a good education for every child, and that is exactly what our policy is about. There are 1.25 million children today who are in schools that are not good or outstanding. There are parents today who fear that their children are not getting the good education that enables them to get on in life. I believe in the education that is right for every child. It is the Labour party that has stifled opportunity and stifled ambition in this country. Members of the Labour party will take the advantages of a good education for themselves and pull up the ladder behind them for other people.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister was unable to help anyone in Kent or Buckinghamshire in the answer to my question—presumably, she will have to return to it. This is not about pulling up ladders; it is about providing a ladder for every child. Let me quote to her what a critic of grammar schools said:
“There is a kind of hopelessness about the demand to ‘bring back’ grammars, an assumption that this country will only ever be able to offer a decent education to a select few.”
He goes on to say:
“I want the Conservative Party to rise above that attitude”.
Those are not my words, but those of the former right hon. Member for Witney. Is he not correct that what we need is investment in all of our schools and a good school for every child, not this selection at the age of 11?
What we need is a good school for every child, and that is precisely what we will be delivering with the policy that we have announced. With that policy, we will see: universities expanding their support for schools; more faith schools being set up; and independent schools increasing their support for schools in the state sector. A diversity of provision of education is what we need to ensure good school places for every child. That good school place is important so that young people can take opportunities and get into the workplace.
I notice that this is the right hon. Gentleman’s fifth question and he has not yet welcomed the employment figures today, which show more people in work than ever before; and wages rising above inflation. That is more people with a pay packet and more money in those pay packets. What would Labour offer? It would offer more taxation and misery for working families. It is only the Conservative party that knows you can build an economy that works for everyone only when everyone has an opportunity for work.
Of course I welcome anyone who has managed to get a job; I welcome those people who have managed to get jobs, and keep themselves and their families together. The problem is that there are now almost a million of them on zero-hours contracts who do not know what they are going to be paid from one week to the other.
In order to help the Prime Minister with the expertise on the reform of secondary schools, may I quote to her what Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has said? He said quite simply this:
“The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as quite palpable tosh and nonsense”.
Is not all this proof that the Conservative party’s Green Paper addresses none of the actual crises facing our schools system: a real-terms cut in the schools budget; half a million pupils in supersize schools; a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention; a rising number of unqualified teachers in classrooms; and vital teaching assistants losing their jobs? Is this not a Government heading backwards, to a failed segregation for the few and second-class schooling for the many? Can we not do better than this?
The right hon. Gentleman has got some of his facts wrong—plain and simple. We have more teachers in our schools today than in 2010. We have more teachers joining the profession than leaving it. We have fewer pupils in supersize classes than there have been previously. I simply say this to him: he has opposed every measure that we have introduced to improve the quality of education in this country. He has opposed measures that increase parental choice, measures that increase the freedom of head teachers to run their schools, and the opportunity for people to set up free schools. Those are all changes that are leading to improvements in our education system, and we will build on them with our new policies.
I recognise that this may very well be the last time that the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to face me across the Dispatch Box—certainly if his MPs have anything to do with it. I accept that he and I do not agree on everything—well, we probably do not agree on anything—but I must say that he has made his mark. Let us think of some of the things he has introduced. He wants coal mines without mining them, submarines without sailing them, and he wants to be Labour leader without leading them. One thing we know is that whoever is Labour leader after the leadership election, it will be the country that loses.
Order. May I just point out to the House that progress today at this Question Time session has been absurdly slow? I ask the House on behalf of our constituents to show some respect for those colleagues who want to question the Prime Minister, and I am determined to get down the list. I call Craig Williams.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right that we need to ensure that we never forget the horrors of the holocaust and the lessons that must be learned from that. It is right that we have agreed to this national memorial next to Parliament on Victoria Gardens, which is an important place for it to be. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will today launch an international competition for the design of that memorial. The design may include a learning centre, which will ensure that there will be opportunities for young people and others truly to learn the lessons from the holocaust and to learn about the appalling atrocities that took place.
Last week, the Prime Minister was unwilling or unable to give any assurances about remaining in the single European market. Today, she has been unwilling or unable to give any assurances to the financial sector about protecting the passporting of financial services. Meanwhile, millions of people from across the United Kingdom depend on freedom of movement across the EU for business and for pleasure. They face the prospect of having to apply and possibly pay for visas. Is the Prime Minister in favour of protecting visa-free travel—yes, or no?
There was a very clear message from the British people at the time of the referendum vote on 23 June that they wanted to see an end to free movement as it operated and control of the movement of people from the European Union into the UK, and that is what we will deliver.
The Prime Minister and the UK Government are totally unwilling to tell us the true cost of Brexit and what their negotiating position will be. In contrast, there is a different tune from the European Union. The new EU negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, has said:
“It’s wrong that Scotland might be taken out of the EU when it voted to stay.”
Does she agree with Mr Verhofstadt and the Scottish Government who want to protect Scotland’s place in Europe?
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to ask that question, but only two years ago he did not want to protect Scotland’s place in the European Union, because he wanted Scotland to leave the UK. On all of those questions, whether it is on the referendum for leaving the European Union, the referendum on independence in Scotland, or those in this House, he seems to think that if he asks the question all the time, he will get a different answer. Well, it will not work for me and it will not work for the Scottish people.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We want our universities not just to be places of learning, but to be places where there can be open debate which is challenged and people can get involved in that. I think everybody is finding this concept of safe spaces quite extraordinary. We want to see that innovation of thought taking place in our universities; that is how we develop as a country, as a society and as an economy, and I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
Obviously, I am not as aware of the details of the individual case as the hon. Gentleman is. The Home Secretary has heard him, and if he would like to write to her with the details, I am sure this case will be looked at. Of course, there are rules that do enable family reunion to take place, and we as a country have committed to take a number of children who are particularly vulnerable—potentially vulnerable—to sexual violence from the region around Syria to ensure that we can resettle them in the UK and take them out of that fear that they are experiencing. But my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will look at the case if he cares to write to her.
As I mentioned earlier in response to a question, one aspect of the vote on 23 June was that people want us to control movement from the European Union into the UK, and, of course, we are already able to control movement from outside the European Union into the United Kingdom. The details of the system we will introduce for EU citizens are currently being worked on, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we will have the ability to control movement from the EU and movement from outside the EU, and therefore bring that greater degree of fairness that I think people were looking for.
Of course, the House of Commons voted for that reduction in the number of Members of Parliament—I think people wanted to see that. I would gently remind him that, when he refers to the House of Lords and changes in the House of Lords, it is actually this Government who have introduced the retirement procedures for the House of Lords that have seen a reduction in the number of Members of the House of Lords.
My hon. Friend is right: the five-year plan does include that proposal for more local input in care at a local level. It is absolutely right that in looking at, for example, the future of minor injuries units, local people are considered and local concerns taken into account. I understand that there is due to be a meeting in Ely later this month to consider this. I hope that she and her constituents will be able to make their views known at that meeting.
I am of course happy to commend the company that the hon. Gentleman has referred to. Of course, the west midlands is an important driver in terms of engineering skills in this country. But I simply do not recognise the situation that he has set out in relation to apprenticeships. We have seen 2 million apprenticeships created over the last six years, and we are committed as a Government to seeing more apprenticeships being created. That is giving young people, like the young people I met when I went to Jaguar Land Rover, opportunities to learn a skill to get into a job, to get into the workplace, and to get on where their talents will take them.
I commend my hon. Friend for the work that she is doing in the all-party parliamentary group. The stable family background that young people are brought up in is obviously important, and she has been a champion for families and for family life. I have set up a policy group led by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). I will ask him to look very carefully at the report that has come out of the all-party parliamentary group to see what we can take from it.
The issues of climate change, reducing emissions, and our energy policy are very important to this Government. We have a fine record in this area, and we will be continuing with that. The issue of carbon capture and storage has been looked at carefully in the past. One of the key issues is the cost. We will continue to invest in the development of CCS. We are investing over £130 million to develop the technology, through innovation support, with the aim of reducing its costs, and so we will continue to look at the role that it can play.
I commend my hon. Friend and others in this House who play a role as school governors—a very important role. She is right that schools need to think carefully about how they are using their resources. The approach taken by water companies does vary. However, we are looking at the guidance to water companies in relation to how they can deal with schools and whether they could be looking at using more concessionary rates for schools.
On the specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman, I will come back to him on the details. As he knows, the National Crime Agency operates in Northern Ireland on a slightly different basis from that on which it operates elsewhere across the United Kingdom. Where issues are being looked into, it will be necessary to ensure that the appropriate skills and capabilities are brought to bear. If I may, I will write to him with a detailed answer to his question.
Will the Prime Minister give her full and enthusiastic support to President Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci as they reach a crucial stage of their negotiations, which we hope will deliver a negotiated settlement for a free and united Cyprus?
I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in doing that. It is important. I think that everybody across this House will wish those talks well and hope that they will have a successful conclusion.
On the process point, it is not for the Prime Minister to insist who attends before a Committee of this House. I understand that Dame Lowell Goddard has been invited to attend the Committee. I think that the hon. Lady and I share, as do many hon. Members across this House, a desire to see the issues of these appalling crimes of child abuse being properly looked into. That is important. Dame Lowell Goddard has set up the inquiry and the truth project. Many aspects of it are already in place and operating, and I am very pleased that Alexis Jay has taken on the role of chairman of the inquiry. She chaired the Rotherham work, and I think that she will do this work extremely well and we will have answers to questions that so many have been asking for so long.
Child sexual exploitation is an issue that affects many communities. Does the Prime Minister agree that shining a light on the events of the past is the best way to learn lessons for the future, and will she agree to an independent review of child sexual exploitation in Telford?
My hon. Friend has just shown the cross-party concern that there is on the issue of child abuse and child sexual exploitation. It is absolutely right, as she says, that we are able to look into the abuses and crimes of the past. We will need to learn important lessons from that as to why institutions that were supposed to protect children failed to do so. It is for the authorities in Telford to look specifically at how they wish to address those issues in Telford, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has heard my hon. Friend’s comments and that she will want to take that up with her.
The hon. Lady obviously raises a very important point in relation to contaminated blood. I will take it away and consider it. Obviously, she will know the reasons and background that led to the Hillsborough independent panel, but I recognise people’s concerns about contaminated blood and will consider the point that she has made.
The Prime Minister will be aware of coverage regarding a report to be published by Dame Louise Casey, the Government’s integration tsar. The report will speak of British laws, culture, values and traditions, such as Christmas, being threatened by political correctness from council officials. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to send a loud and clear message that the best way to secure a harmonious society is not only for mainstream Britain to respect minority traditions, such as Diwali, Vaisakhi and Eid, but for council officials to appreciate that minority communities should respect the views and traditions of mainstream Britain, which means that Christmas is not “Winterval” and that Christmas trees are not “festive” trees?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I will not comment on or pre-empt the findings of Louise Casey’s review, which is an important piece of work. I will simply join my hon. Friend by saying that what we want to see in our society is tolerance and understanding. We want minority communities to be able to recognise and stand up for their traditions, but we also want to be able to stand up for our traditions generally, and that includes Christmas.
Will the Prime Minister look carefully at the calls from the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland for new questions to be added to the next census so that we can better meet the needs of our serving personnel in the armed forces, our veterans and their families? In relation to Northern Ireland, where such a massive contribution is made to the armed forces through recruitment and service, will she look carefully at the distribution of funding under the armed forces covenant so that there is equitable funding across all regions and countries of the United Kingdom?
Of course, I am pleased that it was this Government who introduced the military covenant, and who have recognised the importance of that bond and that link with those who are serving in our armed forces and with veterans of our armed forces. I have not seen the specific request from the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland, but that will certainly be looked at by the Cabinet Office when considering the next census.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the co-operation between Russia and the United States in respect of Aleppo sets a very important precedent, and that it is in the British national interest to redevelop our links with Russia? We may then be able to solve many more problems in that region.
My hon. Friend is right that the agreement that has been reached between Russia and the United States about Syria is an important agreement, and I think everybody in this House will want to see that being put into practice and working on the ground. There have been a number of occasions when we have seen what appear to be steps forward, and sadly it has not been possible to implement them, but I hope that it will be different this time. It would mark an important step. We should have no doubt about the relationship that we should have with Russia. It is not a business as usual relationship. I made that very clear when I was responding to the report on the murder of Litvinenko, and we should continue with that position.
May I join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and Jane Kennedy, the police and crime commissioner on Merseyside, in commending the tremendous bravery of the police officers involved in the stabbing incident in my constituency yesterday, who nevertheless apprehended the suspect? Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that, often in very dangerous circumstances, the police are being asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources?
I join the right hon. Gentleman in recognising once again the work of the individual police constable—[Interruption.] I apologise—the three police constables who apprehended the suspect while being under attack. As I said earlier, our police officers bravely go where others would not go in order to protect the public. They do so much in the line of duty and, for some, when they are off duty as well. They are prepared to go and face danger in order to protect us.
On the issue of resources, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we have protected police budgets over the period of the comprehensive spending review settlement, in the face of a proposal from his Front Benchers that we should cut them by 5% to 10%.